Archive for the food Category

Target publishes its Bangladesh Factory details

Posted in advertising, business, ethics, fashion, Marketing, packaging, sustainability with tags , on August 14, 2014 by marketingheart

Many moons have passed since April 2013 when the Rana Plaza building containing three clothing factories collapsed in Bangladesh taking with it the lives of over 1100 workers, and injuring countless more – locals say the building housed around 6,000 workers. Following the collapse, activists were able to enter the ruins and discovered labels from brands including Primark and Mango, indicating that they were sourcing from the factories. Rana Plaza also produced for a host of well known brand names including Benetton, JC Penney, C&A and Wal-Mart. This collapse followed the Tazreen factory fire in the same district that killed 112 workers five months ago, and the Spectrum Factory collapse of 2005 which caused the death of at least 64 workers. Pro-labor advocates blamed the disasters not just on a lack of regulations, but on a pattern of  violent suppression of workers’ organizing efforts. Although the US imposed trade sanctions on Bangladesh to pressure them to clean up their act, progress has been disappointing. Similarly the fight to get retailers to compensate victims is perhaps predictably mired with only a third of the $40 million total needed to compensate survivors and families of the dead for lost income and medical expenses  having been contributed 12 months after the event according to the Clean Clothes Campaign.

Half the brands associated with the building’s collapse have yet to put any money at all towards compensation — at least, not publicly.

Notwithstanding that, the disaster effectively pressured retailers to be more discriminating about their supply chain, and happily the latest to publicise the results of the clean-up is Target Australia which has just published its factory list. Kudos. Oxfam Australia’s corporate accountability and fair trade adviser, Daisy Gardener, said Kmart and Woolworths had aslo joined, “in being open and accountable about exactly where its clothes are made”.

Changing consumer attitudes towards fast fashion is another thing altogether.


Dirty Deeds in aisle three? The funny business of supermarkets missionaries.

Posted in business, food, Marketing, advertising, ethics with tags , , , on March 25, 2013 by marketingheart

Back in 2007, Coles released a  booklet imposing what it called ethical business practices on its suppliers.

Although it drew some smirks since many vendors felt they had been unethically treated by Coles for years, the initiative seemed to have merit. In his introduction, CEO John Fletcher called it “a set of values and behaviours that provide a framework for how we do business.”


Illustration by B&T Magazine

Last weekend  Fairfax’s Business Day revealed how Coles used a labyrinth of corporate structures including a $10 company in the British Virgin Islands to buy a shopping centre in the upmarket Sydney suburb of Neutral Bay where arch rival Woolies has been turning over $75m pa as the tenant of some 18 years.

The story has now been widely reported and I’m struck that although some commentators have noted the almost absurd levels being reached in the supermarket war, few have discussed the ethical dimension of Coles’ actions.

The structure that  Coles used to pay $40 million for the property –  30% above market rates and probably a record price – was hardly business as usual. The Sydney Morning Herald explained that the company which made the purchase – Sino Ace Investment Pty Ltd – had been registered just days before by one Bernard Chiu* which it described as a wealthy Sydney lawyer, and is owned by a company of the same name set up in the British Virgin Islands tax haven – preventing Woolworths from knowing the identity of its new landlord.

The true identity of the owner as Coles was only uncovered by The Herald from internal board papers – don’t ask how it got them but from this and other Fairfax reports it’s clear Fairfax has a well-placed deep throat in Coles!

Similarly, the terms of the sale were equally mysterious. The Herald found records showing that Sino Ace Investment bought the property from Vanbridge Pty Ltd which had purchased it in 1992 for $12.7m. Vanbridge is owned by Phun Lim and six members of the Mok family who list their company address in Sydney’s Pitt Street but home addresses in Hong Kong. The relationship between Sino Ace Investment and Vanbridge is not known.

Who is that masked man?

If you thought there must be some winner here, perhaps its Bernard Chiu, the man who registered Sino Ace Investment. Four months after the Neutral Bay deal with Vanbridge, he listed  the ludicrously palatial 7 bedroom home shown above for $13 million.  Trading up perhaps?

I’d like to reveal more about this ‘prominent lawyer’, but unfortunately I can find almost nothing about him. Could he be behind Bernard Chiu Legal & Business Solutions, the trading name of  Bernard Hang Man Chiu … a sole trader entity with no website or other web presence whatsoever? Is he the Bernard Chiu listed on LinkedIn with absolutely no other information. Another approach: a Financial Review property feature says Chiu bought his house ‘through his Berneva Consultancy company in 2005 for $9 million’. Berneva Consultancy was registered as a company in 2005 (the year the house was purchased), only registered for GST in 2009 and has no web presence at all – not even yielding anything in  a Google search.

And that’s it. No legal history, no public addresses, no awards, no big business deals, no splashy donations no business activity apart from buying and selling a multi-million dollar property with its Teppanyaki bar and kitchen and its ‘porte-cochere’.  Who is the masked man behind this $40m property deal?

Extravagant corporate squabble or dishonest and unethical practice?

This is not the first time a war has erupted over leases. Woolworths evicted Coles from a centre in the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba in 2012 after buying the site in 2000. So perhaps this could be explained as tit for tat, a petty squabble between massive wallets, and the covert aspect simply  business strategy being kept secret from competitors in the normal way. Perhaps.

Whilst presumably legal, Cole’s structure was clearly designed to hide the true nature of the deal. In 2011 Michael D’Ascenzo Commissioner of Taxation wrote “Proper governance should ensure that large public companies do not use tax havens for concealment purposes… We are in fact seeing dealings by large business that may involve related companies in tax havens and we will be reviewing such arrangements.”

For me, not just does this deal transgress reasonable and acceptable business practices, there is something else besides: under the terms of Neutral Bay lease, Woolies has to show its landlord its sales data.

To supermarkets, data is everything. Recently I’ve been working with a major national retailer that actually runs its marketing at a profit. How? By selling customer sales data to its vendors. Data is gold.

Using a concealed and devious means to extract critical intelligence from your direct competitor seems only one step away from corporate espionage. This is not seeking a competitive advantage through fair means – this is going to any extent to win by fair means or foul. This is the corporation as psychopath, working that gray space between what society accepts and what it clearly outlaws, the space that a book tellingly entitled Hardball: Five Killer Strategies for Trouncing the Opposition, labelled  ‘so rich in possibilities.’

This tussle may be the tip of an iceberg. Woolworths recently floated a $1.5 billion property portfolio on the Australian Securities Exchange and some industry observers believe the Coles/Woolies fight will shift to property. The supermarket giants have been put on notice about their aggressive property strategies, with the ACCC looking into whether two recent proposed acquisitions by Woolworths in the ACT and NSW could ”substantially lessen competition” in the market.

Should we care about one chest-beating corporate slogging it out against another, dirty tricks or no? In recent years both Coles and Woolworths have moved beyond food into liquor hardware, pubs, pokies, petrol, clothes, loyalty cards and more.  How they behave has the potential to affect not just countless other businesses, but almost every Australian consumer in one way or another.

The Mission Position

With a warm avuncular purr, Coles’ website says its mission is “To give the people of Australia a shop they trust”. Parent company Wesfarmers punishes punctuation to promise it “adheres to four core values: integrity; openness; accountability; and boldness.” Woolworths simply simpers “We strive to be open, honest, fair and transparent in everything we do.”

For the record, Enron’s mission statement included “We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.” Maybe Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dave Barry had it right when he said “A mission statement is a dense slab of words that a large organization produces when it needs to establish that its workers are not just sitting around downloading Internet porn”

Adopting the Mission Position on websites is easy. Shafting suppliers and the competition is at odds with such statements. Let the supermarket Missionaries be judged on their actions.

The transparent Canadian Big Mac

Posted in food, Marketing, advertising, ethics with tags , on October 1, 2012 by marketingheart

In yesterday’s Sydney Daily Telegraph there was a story about how different burgers look compared to the heavily styled ones that appear in commercials.

It’s an old story, scarcely news (somebody at the Tele must have rifled through the bottom drawer to fill a space), but the point made is reasonable.

So it was refreshing to see Maccas Canada address the issue head-on. That’s one for transparency. Or were they just showing off their rather glamorous  marketing director!

Why don’t corporations don’t display this kind of frankness more often? To me, it conveys a healthy respect for their consumers’ intelligence and an all too rare awareness that the truth is out there, you might as well deal with it.

PRODUCTS. NOW EVEN BIGGER! (than they really are)

Posted in Marketing, advertising, ethics, packaging with tags on August 9, 2012 by marketingheart

As I sat glumly awaiting my train with the other commuters in the underground station, I contemplated the image in front of me. It seemed putting this up in an underground station is a little like sending holiday brochures to somebody in prison.

Then something ht me…the product pack is about 25% bigger than reality.
This is a common technique in advertising. In fact, in my very first job we worked on an el-cheapo furniture account. The product was all undersized, a three seater couch would sit two and a half men, etc. We had to scout for tiny models to make the stuff look normal. Shoots were bizarre, all these 5 foot high people running around, I haven’t felt so statuesque since taking a holiday in Guatemala.

Sorry about the terrible photo, it’s taken underground!


Shoppers abandon ethical beliefs when it counts

Posted in food, government, Marketing, advertising, ethics, sustainability with tags , on December 2, 2011 by marketingheart

When Andrew Charlton wrote in this month’s Quarterly Essay “The world is split between those who want to save the planet and those who want to save themselves” he made a powerful point, but maybe it’s not quite that simple.

I’ve blogged before about Australia’s poor uptake of FairTrade products. Having said that, significant improvements have been reported. However, a new piece of research by a Victoria University branding specialist indicates consumers’ unwillingness to follow ethical convictions through to the extent they actually make a difference. Senior lecturer in marketing Maxwell Winchester surveyed 8,000 shoppers (in the UK) finding that they were more likely to buy larger national brands than fairtrade when both were available.

“A majority of consumers will confess to having strong ethical attitudes and practices including boycotting, but the reality of their actual behaviour was shown to be otherwise,” Winchester said. “Consumers are not taking their ethical concerns to the checkout.”

Of course if more big brands go Fair Trade – so the choice doesn’t need to be made. But unless consumers vote for FairTrade products with their wallets it’s not going to happen…a case of chicken and free range egg?

PS it should be noted that Fair Trade itself has received its share of criticism over the years for being ineffective in its aims to improve the welfare of third world agricultural workers and rural societies. The debate continues…


Coca Cola muscles out environmental concerns in the Grand Canyon

Posted in business, government, packaging, politics, sustainability with tags , , , , , , on December 2, 2011 by marketingheart

Pristine wilderness under pressure

Here’s a cautionary tale about the reliance by public bodies on private funding if ever there was one. Coca Cola has donated over $13m to the US National Parks, so, whether they really have any sort of commitment to environmental issues or not,  at the very least they must get the PR benefit of looking like they do, right?

So it comes as a surprise to read how the company turned psycho when the custodians of the extremely fragile Grand Canyon National Park declared a ban on disposable plastic water bottles…and successfully pressured the Parks to reverse the ban.

This despite the Parks having gone to lengths to work with the local retailers who would be affected by the ban. However, possibly assuming that if small retailers could overlook a minor dent in their sales in order to protect a world heritage site so could a global corporation, they neglected to deal with the bully in the room.

Nor the coward, apparently. Neil J. Mulholland, president of the parks foundation, said a Coca-Cola representative contacted him late in the process to ask for details of the bottle ban and how it would work. “There was not an overt statement made to me that they objected to the ban,” Mulholland claims. “There was never anything inferred by Coke that if this ban happens, we’re losing their support.” Nonetheless, he simply folded at the very idea and halted the plan to ban.

A Cocal Cola spokesperson said “Banning anything is never the right answer,” she said. “If you do that, you don’t necessarily address the problem.”

Erm, so banning plastic bottles doesn’t address the issue of discarded plastic bottles? I’m waiting to hear from CC exactly what their solution might be. It’s estimated that water bottles make up 30% of the Park’s solid waste. A ban isn’t a radical new idea – Zion National Park already has a ban. What perplexes me here is the value of water sales in the national Park vs the damaging PR generated by this story. CC’s behaviour seems like a mean, heavy-handed, ignorant, greedy over-reaction…entirely consistent with the idea of the corporation as psychopath.

Read more:

Don’t think twice. In fact don’t think at all.

Posted in food, Marketing, advertising, ethics, Uncategorized with tags on August 1, 2011 by marketingheart

Dylan once introduced his song  “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” as “a statement that maybe you can say to make yourself feel better… as if you were talking to yourself.”

Maybe it was partly Bob who inspired chicken chain Red Rooster to use the line as it’s new jingle/tag/payoff line but I doubt it. It struck me as a call to simply not think before stuffing unhealthy food down the old hatch.

This smacks of the last act of desperation for an advertiser: there is absolutely no earthly reason any rational intelligent person would consume our product…so we’ll simply assume that our market is no such thing, hope for the best and encourage utterly mindless gorging.

Touching in a way. And stratetically even weaker considering that the chain is actually attempting to position itself as a healthy option, the idea being that you don’t need to think twice because you are eating something healthy. I’m not sure the “Don’t think twice” line sufficiently delivers on that position given the starting point they’re trying to move away from, that of greasy cheapo deep fried chicken joint. Surely the healthy repositioning needed to be a little more front-and-centre for our unthinking chicken eater. Judge for yourself.

But probably a step forward from the old jingle “Are you Red Red, Ready Red Rooster”.

Do you think repetitive jingle-based ads are still powerful in moving consumer perceptions?

PS kudos where it’s due: apparently In 2010 Red Rooster voluntarily ceased advertising kids meals. And the link below does recognise Red Rooster’s healthy food options.